It's that time of year again. With just two rounds left of the regular season, teams must start to make their move if they are to achieve that all important top six finish.
Here is a brief fantasy rugby guide for this week plus a full preview of the penultimate week of games in the Super 15.
Do you go for the upsets?
Back in February, Round 1 of this years Super Rugby stunned fans as well as pundits. The underdogs performed admirly as they upset a few of the favourites, but as the season has continued, order seems to have been restored.
In terms of the last few rounds, people may have backed the outsiders just because the favourties haven’t been performing to the level they expect. However, that has backfired on them recently!
The favourites have started to show their experience and class.
This now seems to have ended hopes of the sides sitting at the bottom of your fantasy conference – who picked upsets, hoping for some bonus points to move them up the table.
Like we mentioned earlier though, there has been several upsets throughout the season so if you fancy a punt this weekend, you may well reap the rewards.
Super Rugby’s tipping competition SuperBru works on this basis. You get one point for picking a win, half a point for getting within 5 points of the winning margin (that’s only if you picked the winner) and another point for being the closest.
This has great postives if you back an underdog this weekend.
Many people could pick a favourite (based on the last few weeks) meaning there will be a decrease in competiiton for being the closest to the result. Even if you are way out with the winning margin, you could be the only person that picked that underdog team meaning you will pick up a key bonus point.
By all means gamble and have a go at picking a number of upsets, but its is very seldom to see what we saw in Round 1 with five upsets from the seven matches. Of course, the title of ‘upset’ really does depend on who is playing who.
You have to be clever when picking upsets too. You may feel confident about one so keep that to yourself as there is more chance of you winning crucial bonus points.
TRU’s Scott Donaldson’s thoughts on the upset debate ahead of Round 17:
Depending on the size of your pool and how many others pick upsets then if there are more than two upsets then it is probably profitable to pick every game as an upset. If there are two or less, then you probably lose more than you gain. The problem is that towards the end of the competition, people who are towards the bottom of the conference will go for the upsets and steal some potential points off you!
Season stats - Home advantage could be key
In Rounds 15 and 16, the average winning total has been by 16 points taking its overall average to just under 12 points for the season. As we enter the final furlong in this Super 15 season, I expect more points to be shipped as tired legs may not be able to keep up the intensity after a gruling campaign.
Last weekend, the Hurricanes, Melbourne Rebels, and the Warathas lost by seven points or less, which does highlight how close this season has been. In fact, 48 of the 106 matches have seen a difference of between 1 and 7 points when it comes to winning and losing a game.
At this stage of the season the figures matter more than ever in terms of fantasy rugby. The home advantage has played its part this campaign with 60 per cent of matches being won by the hosts.
This percentage is lower than last season when it was 71 per cent and that could be down to the draw or less home referees, but it is abudently clear that the home side normally comes out on top.
No National Players
Now to this week. To make things even harder for us pundits and fantasy players, national team selectors have stated they want international players rested as preparations start to take shape for the World Cup in September.
In turn, this raises more questions for fantasy players as we are now unsure how strong teams will be and whether, without these international players, they are the same force.
The Highlanders will not want a repeat of what happened against the Brumbies at the back end of April. They rested all of their All Blacks and really failed to threaten the Brumbies defence. Also this weekend, the National Under 20s is currently underway meaning teams will be affected by that as well.
Round 17 preview
So after all that information, where do you stand at this nail-biting stage of the season? Do you play safe or take the risk?
Round 17 is difficult to call. There seem to be a few games where the favorites could slip up, but there are also games where you think the result is already in the bag. Along with this, the match of the round is up for debate.
Like in most sports a battle between the top two sides is always enthralling to see but the fact that the top two New Zealand sides - the Hurricanes and the Highlanders - are all but in the important top six positions, your attention maybe turned to the South African conference.
The Stormers top that conference and they are currently second in the overall standings. Their opponents this weekend are the Lions. They are second in the SA conference, but more importantly, they are seventh in the overall table.
They are just three points behind the Stormers and know with a win, they will take a massive step to finishing in the top six.
Don’t get me wrong, the Hurricanes/Highlanders game will be fascinating because the Hurricanes can still mathematically clinch the title and without their All Blacks players; that would add to the achievement.
It would be interesting to see if Super 15 used the normal league format rather than using the conference system. Currently the top three sides from New Zealand – Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs have the most points overall, but only the Hurricanes sit in the top three. Highlanders sit fourth whilst the Chiefs are 5th.
We are still all on course for an all New Zealand final, but it would mean one of the sides having to win away to achieve that aim.
TRU’s Scott Donaldson’s thoughts on the top six:
We think that 50 points will ensure teams a place in the Top Six, while the winner of the Highlanders will take a big step towards hosting a qualifying game with around 54 points likely to be enough to finish fourth.
Round 17 Fixtures
The Hurricanes need a win to secure top spot in the overall conference and go into this game against the Highlanders as favourites at McLean Park.
The hosts’ big team news is the return of fly-half Beauden Barrett after injuring his knee on May 2. Barrett takes his place back as Otere Black is on U20 duty while Victor Vito returns at No 8. Nonu is taking his second of two mandatory national team rests meaning Rey Lee-Lo is in the side whilst Ben Franks replaces Jeffery Toomaga-Allen at prop.
In terms of fantasy rugby, Barrett’s injury does mean he wont be kicking just yet so James Marshall will have that duty.
The Hurricanes have lost just twice this season and they were beaten soundly by the Crusaders last week. They have lost at home just once this season when the Warathas were victorious over them in the middle of April.
As for The Highlanders, they will face the league leaders without their All Blacks- Malakai Fekitoa, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith.
Their team news ironcially sees Hawkes Bay hooker Ash Dixon’s debut as captain for the vistors in Napier.
The Highanders expect to have as many as six changes for this game with one of them being a huge blow as Patrick Osborne is out injured.
The Highlanders are on good form at the minute having won their last three matches, but with them missing some key New Zealand players, I would say the Hurricanes are favourites for this local derby.
Scott Donaldson’s players to watch
Hurricanes: Ardie Savea, Blade Thomson (bargain), Nehe Milner-Skudder (bargain), James Marshall (bargain), Dane Coles, Julian Savea.
Highlanders: Waisake Naholo, Elliot Dixon, Richard Buckman, Lima Sopoaga.
The Brumbies may feel the pressure this Friday night given how much they have to play for when they take on the Force.
Brumbies currently sit second in the Australian conference, but they are in that final top six place in the overall table as they look to qualify for the finals.
A bonus-point win in Perth would all but confirm them a place in the finals, but if they are to lose to the Force (who sit bottom of both the Australian conference and the overall table), it could mean the Brumbies’ final game of 2015 will be against the Crusaders next weekend.
The positive way of looking at it is that the Brumbies could still catch the Chiefs and Waratahs who are struggling to find their form when it matters most.
The Brumbies have made just one change to their XV that narrowly beat the Bulls last week with Blake Enever replacing the injured Sam Carter at second row.
As for the Force, their squad depth is holding them back and with just two wins to their name all season, I expect the Brumbies to win well.
Also watch out for the battle at the breakdown between David Pocock and Ita Vaea as they face up against the Forces’ Matt Hodgson and Ben McCalman.
Scott Donaldson’s players to watch:
Force: Steve Mafi, Nathan Charles, Ben McCalman, Dane Haylett-Petty.
Brumbies: David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano, Tevita Kuridrani, Henry Speight, Ita Vaea, Stephen Moore.
It is set to be a landmark moment for the Rebels prop Paul Alo-Emile this weekend. He will become the sixth player in the clubs short history to reach 30 Rebels caps.
Coach Tony McGahan is set to make four changes to the starting XV. Cam Crawford is making his first start in Melbourne, Tamati Ellison returns from a short spell on the sidelines whilst scrum-half Nic Stirzaker starts after coming off the bench last weekend.
Young Rebels’ Sam Jeffries, Ben Meehan and Tim Metcher are all named amongst the replacements.
In terms of results for the Rebels, they are 10th - a place behind their visitors this Saturday, but they have lost their last three games.
As for the Bulls, they haven’t fared well on their tours so far. They have lost to both the Chiefs and the Blues and a trip to Melbourne may cause them some more problems. Added to this, the Bulls are also without Handre Pollard this weekend.
Both sides to have a small chance of making the top six, but with home advantage playing such a part and the Bulls without Pollard, I will go for the Rebels in this one.
Scott Donaldson’s players to watch
Rebels: Sean McMahon, Scott Higginbotham, Pat Leafa, Luke Jones.
Bulls: Adriaan Strauss, Pierre Spies, Victor Matfield.
The Blues have been struck by injury which may have led to them thinking that their season is over. On top of that, some of their representatives (including the highly rated Akiro Ioane) are involved in the U20 world championships and now a young side will face the Crusaders this weekend.
James Parsons is set to captain the team with second row Will Lloyd, flanker Joe Edwards and fullback Matt Vaega all expected to make their first starts for the side.
As for the Crusaders, they sit in eight place in the table and still have hope that they can reach the finals, but any slip up would end their chances. They will be full of confidence heading into this game after their win against the Hurricanes last week.
Coach Todd Blackadder makes three changes in the forwards which see the return of Wyatt Crockett. Also the return of a fully fit Robbie Fruean to the midfield is massive for the visitors. The Crusaders have the stronger team and this will be my first away win of the weekend.
Scott Donaldson’s players to watch
Blues: George Moala, Ihaia West, James Parsons.
Crusaders: Nemani Nadolo, Dan Carter, Robbie Fruean, Jordan Taufua.
The attention once again surrounds Quade Cooper. He feels that he owes his Reds teamates a performance this Saturday.
He has stated that he has under-peformed for the last two months and if he puts on a solid display this weekend it would be a great farewell to Will Genia and skipper James Horwill who have made 232 apperances between them for the Reds. This may well be Cooper’s last game in Brisbane for the Reds too, but he is yet to say.
This will be the Reds’ biggest performance of the season against the two time champions the Cheifs and they are unchanged from the side that beat the Force last weekend.
In terms of the Chiefs, the All Black duo of Brody Retallick and Liam Messam return which is a boost considering they have wobbled slightly without them. Retallick is back at second row, whilst Messam returns to flanker and takes over the captaincy from Sam Cane. Tom Marshall also returns at fullback.
This a must win game for the Chiefs if they are to achieve their top six ambitions. I would say they need one more win to secure that spot.
Their series of injuries including Retallick and Messam along with Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams have raised questions whether the Chiefs can qualify for the finals and they will need to bounce back from their 36-9 defeat to the Highlanders last weekend.
In terms of this one, I still think the Chiefs have enough to spoil the Reds’ party.
Scott Donaldson’s players to watch:
Chiefs: Marty McKenzie, Brodie Retallick, Charlie Ngatai, Sam Cane, Hika Elliot, Michael Leitch.
Reds (yet to be named): Quade Cooper, Liam Gill, Samu Kerevi, James Hanson.
A big lift for away side is that Jacques Potgieter is back which is a welcome return to the team. Matt Carraro is the only other change as he is in for the suspended Rob Horne.
The Waratahs can not afford to lose this game in Bloemfontein this weekend as they are level on points with the Brumbies at the top of the Australian conference.
The Cheetahs have been forced into making a number of changes to stop the current rot which they are on. They have shipped 107 points in the last three weeks and seem to have given up for 2015.
Its seem only sensible to go for the Warathas on this occasion.
Scott Donaldson’s players to watch
Cheetahs: Boom Prinsloo.
Waratahs: Israel Folau, Bernard Foley, Micheal Hooper, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naivaravora.
This is arguably the biggest game of the Super 15 weekend. There are two battles within this war with both sides going for top spot in the South African conference and also looking to confirm a home finals game.
Stormers can secure their third straight SA conference title with a victory against this in form Lions side. Their chances will be boosted as they welcome back Schlak Burger from his mandatory international rest for this huge crunch match.
Bongi Mbonambi also returns to the side and tighthead prop Frans Malherbe is in for Vincent Koch.
The Lions, who currently sit 7th in the table know they need to win this if they are to get into the finals as they have a bye in the final weekend of the regular season.
They are set to make two injury forced changes with Alywn Hollenbach starting at inside centre after injury to Lionel Mapoe . This means Harry Vorster will go to outside centre. On the bench, Howard Mnisi will come in for Stokkies Hanekom who suffered a slight knee injury last week against the Waratahs.
This Lions also have Jaco Kriel, Elton Jantjies and Warren Whiteley in their armour to trouble their hosts, but the Stormers have won their last four at home. The Lions are in form, but the Stormers have better form in the previous 12 meetings between these sides so that is why I am going for the home side.
Scott Donaldson’s players to watch:
Stormers: Duane Vermeulen, Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds.
Lions: Warren Whiteley, Elton Jantjies, Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert.
For those playing fantasy rugby game www.testrugby.com, we are also naming players to watch. You can also join the Super Rugby Tips conference at SuperBru.
When you play salary cap fantasy rugby you need to think careful about how purchase and get some bargins in! There are plenty of players to chose from and it might seem difficult to fill your squad without exceeding your budget. The trick is to get rid of players who have a bye (e.g this weekend the Sharks have a bye) and then buy them back early.
If you are playing on www.testrugby.com there are some things to think about.
With limited trades, you have to allow for the international players being rested and of course injuries play their part so make sure you check that before you make any trades.
TRU’s Scott Donaldson’s tips
If you run out of trades then you have to minimise the damage with locks probably the lowest scoring position to have a non player in. Also if you are keeping players who have the bye or are injured, make sure you keep the cheapest players as their values will drop less and they won’t take up as much of the salary cap. In some games like www.testrugby.com you can buy trades if you are desperate.
The good news is that the two team bye rounds are over, but managers need to start conserving trades for the finals. Annoyingly because of the format, the top two teams have the bye in the first round of the finals, so sometimes picking players from the Hurricanes may not be great long term strategies!
Who are you picking to win Super Rugby Round 17 games?
In 2012, 69 out of 120 regular season games were won by the home team, this increased in 2013 with 77 out of 120 and in the year 2014, 85 out of 120 games were won by the home team (71 percent). It seems to be getting harder to win away, with 51 away wins in 2012, 40 away wins in 2013 and only 33 away wins in 2014.
The average winning margin has been increasing, from 10.89 points in 2012 to 12.85 points in 2014. The most common winning margin in 2014 was 3 points, in 2013 it was 7 points while in 2012 it was 5 and 6 points. Margins of 1, 7 and 8 points are also popular, while in 2014 a margin of 16 points was very popular, which shows why the average winning margin is increasing.